Domino Sugar Factory

Domino Sugar Factory: A Masterclass in Futuristic Adaptive Reuse

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The history of Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Factory is as old as modern New York. In the 1880s, the sugar processing business was booming, and Domino Foods was at the top of its game. Founded in 1799 by German immigrant cousins Frederick and William Havemeyer, the company built a Romanesque Revival facility in 1856 on the Brooklyn waterfront, a prime location to receive the loads of raw sugar that were shipped in daily from the American South and Caribbean, where enslaved people were forced into the hard labor of harvesting it.

After slavery was made illegal in the United States, the Havemeyers’ company continued to see its gains soar. In 1882, a fire swept their wood-framed brick building on the waterfront forcing their relative, Theodore Havemeyer, to design an expanded and upgraded structure in its place. Now including filter, pan, and finishing houses, three brick buildings shared party walls and had iron supports and signature arched windows. The factory was one of the first in the borough to be lit by electricity, likely self-generated.

Far into the 20th century, Domino Foods owned 98% of US sugar processing and this Brooklyn structure and its 240-foot-tall smokestack were a signature sight on New York’s industrial shores. When the facility closed in 2004, it was landmarked just three years later, and in another three, was primed to be transformed again in a SHoP Architects masterplan. On September 27, the Refinery at Domino Sugar Factory will reopen for its next life, a 15-story, 460,000-square-foot office building with a unique biophilic twist. Designed by Partnership for Architecture and Urbanism with landscaping by Field Operations, the barrel-vaulted glass structure melds history, innovative engineering, and sustainability in an adaptive reuse project for the 21st century.

An aerial view of the reopened Refinery at Domino. Once, in the 1880s, the sugar processing business was booming, and Domino Foods was at the top of its game. Now, it’s a 15-story office building that melds history, innovative engineering, and sustainability fit for the 21st century

In this open-air gap between the brick façade and the glass wall, a suspended garden provides a view of greenery wherever one looks.

When working on an adaptive reuse project in a historic shell, architectural quirks are a challenge. And this building proved to be no exception. Because the factory had once been three facilities, exterior windows do not align. The architecture team decided to embrace this inconsistency and create a glass building within the 1800s brick façade with more standardized heights between floors, ranging from 12 to 14 feet tall, that allow light deep into the 33,000-square-foot plates. It’s topped by a vaulted glass roof for which the team developed a custom shading system and ceramic frit (a technique used to reduce glare and solar gain). What’s more, the new Refinery building is all-electric powered, meaning that it will have net-zero carbon emissions.

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